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To her credit, Ayn Rand did not approve of slavery. Through the mouth of John Galt, she not only said “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man” but added “nor ask another man to live for mine”. Whether she actually lived by the second part of that creed is another matter, nor is it clear how Galt would have felt about some of the practices clearly implied by Judge Narragansett’s amendment to the US constitution, drafted at the end of ‘Atlas Shrugged’, that stated that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade”. One can think of many practices, up to and including chattel slavery, which, while clearly demanding that one man live for the sake of another, can be prevented only by some abridgement of those freedoms.

These random thoughts passed through my head after reading a LinkedIn post of the 18th of April that appeared in my area because it had received the Carlos Terre seal of approval. Embedded in it was a brief video of Milton Friedman lauding the benefits of ‘complete free trade’, together with a link to a much longer one. I wondered, in a comment on the post, how completely free it was possible for trade to be, since such things as trademarks, copyright, patents and intellectual property rights are rather fundamental to trade as carried on at the moment. Fortunately, I had a software developer called Omar B who has, according to his LinkedIn page, been “Building software for profit since 2002”, to answer that one for me.

“Yes, Dr Milsom, Milton Friedman believed in complete laissez-faire 🙂


Patents are bad for civilisation.

P.S. Murray Rothbard goes even beyond that :)”

Perhaps we should leave Rothbard, who thought that parents ‘owned’ their children and should be entitled to sell them, out of this. I don’t think Friedman would go that far.

Omar did not say whether he himself approved. Software is, after all, a rather important aspect of intellectual property these days, but there are, of course, many generous people out there in the cloud who are happy to share the fruits of their labours gratis.

But to return to Rand and her unresolved contradictions. The problem with her ‘philosophy’ is that it divided the world into three categories, these being the ‘rational men’, who were all in their own ways geniuses (and very healthy and good looking as well – Stephen Hawking would never have qualified), the looters, who at least displayed a level of low cunning, and the rest of us, the sheep.

Or perhaps four, because there is Robert Stadler, the only character who had the intelligence to be one of the rational men, but chose instead to be one of the looters. It could be argued that it was he, and not John Galt, that brought the US to its knees when his Project X detonated and destroyed much of the central part of the country. It had taken a great mind to develop that project, but that mind turned out, in the end, to be an irrational one, in Rand’s terminology.

But what of lesser Stadlers? Minds not great enough to invent Project X, but quite adequate to producing  Rearden metal once the technique was known. Friedman would not have granted Rearden any protection for the processes he invented and neither, if his ‘amendment’ meant what it said, would Judge Narragansett.

That amendment would be a looter’s charter.